McCall heaps praise on Vunipola

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Published: Saturday 17th January 2015 by The News Editor

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Saracens boss Mark McCall hailed a “phenomenal” performance by England number eight Billy Vunipola after twice European champions Munster were destroyed 33-10 at Allianz Park.

Saracens took a giant stride towards the European Champions Cup quarter-finals after delivering arguably their most complete performance of the season.

Wings Chris Wyles and Chris Ashton scored first-half tries, before Ashton added a second touchdown after the break, while Owen Farrell reminded England head coach Stuart Lancaster of his quality prior to next week’s RBS 6 Nations squad announcement by kicking four penalties and three conversions for an 18-point haul.

French giants Clermont Auvergne remain favourites to win Pool One – they host Saracens on Sunday week – but it is probable that one of three best runners-up spots in terms of last-eight qualification will be filled by either club.

And Vunipola, who looks set to replace broken leg victim Ben Morgan in England’s starting line-up for the RBS 6 Nations opener against Wales in Cardiff in February 6, produced an inspired display.

“Billy was phenomenal today,” Saracens rugby director McCall said.

“He was a force of nature in attack and defence, but I thought we had outstanding performances right through the group.

“(Scrum-half) Richard Wigglesworth was magnificent – he set the pace and tone of the match – and Chris Ashton was outstanding – not his two tries, which were good – but some of his kicking game early on allowed us to control things.

“There is a small sense of frustration that we didn’t get the fourth try (and bonus point), but I thought it was a really good performance.

“We are in a position where we go to Clermont, and if we win the match, we win the pool. That is what our intention is going to be.”

And Wigglesworth added: “That was us out there. We had a great week’s preparation, and everyone was excited to be out there.

“Munster are a massive momentum team, but I thought we controlled it brilliantly. It was a great feeling.”

Munster, though, are effectively out of the competition after suffering their heaviest European defeat since losing 60-19 to Toulouse during the 1996-97 season.

Their failure to reach the last-eight, which should be confirmed later on Saturday after Clermont’s game against Sale Sharks, is only the second time in the last 17 European campaigns for them to experience such misery.

And after suffering home and away defeats against Clermont in December, it was the first time for Munster to be on the receiving end of three successive European losses.

Centre Denis Hurley’s late try, plus an Ian Keatley conversion and penalty, could not mask Munster deficiencies, as Saracens overpowered them up front and won an overwhelming majority of midfield collisions.

“It was very disappointing. We didn’t turn up at times,” Munster head coach Anthony Foley said.

“If you look at their scores, they probably started with a big error by us.

“We didn’t fire a shot, particularly early on in such an important game for us with the tournament on the line.

“With a result like that, we don’t get out of our group. We need to address a few things and make sure that we turn up next weekend (against Sale) and put in a performance.

“We were dropping passes, we were passing the ball to fresh air.

“There is a lot of character in the team and a lot of good players. It is just unfortunate that we played like we did today.”

Published: Saturday 17th January 2015 by The News Editor

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